Archive | February, 2011

Around the traps on a drizzly day

28 Feb

Tiny bay tree, awaiting its permanent pot

We finally got some rain today. Not heavy, but a reasonably constant drizzle. Perfect weather for wandering around and checking out the garden without getting fried.

I have been more and more conscious lately about pesticide residues in food, and that is partially why I am trying to grow as much of our own food as possible. One way to reduce pesticide exposure considerably is by growing your own herbs. In Australia, the vast majority of the dried herbs you buy are imported. From where? Search me… Looking through my herb and spices cupboard I could not find a single local ingredient, and of the imported products, very few actually specified their origin. My sesame seeds are from India, my sumac from Turkey, but my basil? Imported. Oregano? Imported. Who knows where they are grown and what they are sprayed with!

Over the weekend I picked up a tiny bay laurel tree – I’ve been eyeing my friend Em’s one off jealously for years, and I finally got sick of buying bay leaves. Not a bad deal for about 6 bucks considering how much you pay for a bag of bay leaves. Hopefully I’ll never need to buy them again.

Dill, Parsley and Coriander in the experimental herb garden

Everyone’s bugbear in Sydney is coriander. Everyone tries to grow it, usually from seedlings, and either it struggles, or it thrives then bolts to seed. I’m determined to crack this nut. I have a garden next to the garage that receives light from about 9am till 2.30pm in the summer, and probably doesn’t get much at all in the winter. I ordered some seeds of a slowbolt variety of coriander from Green Harvest, and I’ve planted them in the bed along with parsley and dill. I hope that the warm weather will help with germination and establishing the plants, then the cooler weather will set in and stop them from bolting. I plan to save the seeds of the slowest bolting plants, then plant those ones again. I may have to plant them in a different location for a supply over the summer (when the garden gets blasted by midday sun), but I think the location will be good for the cooler months through to late spring or early summer.

My celery forest

Common wisdom is that celery is hard to grow. I didn’t realise this when I whacked in the seedlings on (probably) the first weekend after we moved in. Luckily the brilliant soil in the raised garden bed we inherited has paid dividends, and I now have a celery forest. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do when it’s ready, because surely no-one can use this much celery. So far I’ve just been hacking away individual stalks as needed. Now I’m considering whether to ‘blanch’ the celery or not. Blanching is when you cover the stalks of the celery with paper or soil to make them go white. Apparently white celery is more tender and less bitter. I might try it with one or two of them, and see how it goes.

Out with the old

27 Feb

I spoke to a few people over the weekend about my front yard vegetable plans. I chatted to a couple of neighbours (who clearly think I’m loony), and my sister, who thinks I should reconsider.

Half of the carpet roses are now pruned back to stumps

I’m determined though, and when the (sick, grumpy) kids went down for their nap today, P and and I got stuck into the carpet rose bed. I hacked away with the shears while P fed the prunings (very slowly) into the mulcher. We got about halfway through before the kids woke up again. The green waste bin was full anyway, so we’ll have to leave the rest till next weekend. I’m still considering what to do with the roses themselves – there is at least 20 of them, so maybe ebay? Drop me a line if you want any.

In preparation for the new vegie garden, I went to Bunnings and bought 10 bags of cow manure. I was very proud that I managed to get 250 litres of cow manure into the car all by myself, but I’m not sure that the car is ever going to smell the same. Now that I can see the state of the soil in the carpet rose bed, I can tell it is going to need it.

Around the rest of the garden, I haven’t had any more possum issues since I dropped the sides of the tomato cage. Also, my mulberries are starting to ripen – that’s the last of the dwarf trees in the bonsai bags in the photo above. Oh – and can you see how dead our front lawn is? We need some decent rain!

Claiming the front yard back for me

25 Feb

I worry too much about what other people think. So since we moved in I have been trying my best to maintain what we inherited. I have been carefully pruning the roses, watering the shrubs and asking P to mow and edge the lawn regularly. Living in a street full of older folk, they see everything and most people are quite ‘house proud’. If you don’t mow your lawn often enough, you feel like you are letting the team down.

Yesterday I came to the realisation that I don’t actually like the carpet roses in the raised garden bed along the front of our block. They are sprawling, spiky and jump out to get the kids when they play. They grow vigorously and need to be pruned back hard in the winter, and then need to be disposed of in green waste, because I don’t want to spread fungal disease through the rest of the garden. The garden bed that they occupy is 10 metres x 1 metre. That’s 10 square metres of well-drained, full-sun receiving soil that I could use for vegetables.

Now I hesitate here because I know what people think about growing vegetables in the front yard. They’re ugly! I disagree. People will steal your vegetables! Actually, I don’t think they will. You can’t grow vegetables in the front yard!

Watch me.

Beauty in the everyday

24 Feb

Isn't God's creation lovely?

My garden has taught me to stop and smell the roses. To be still and notice the little things and how beautiful they can be. I like to wander and peer, smell and listen.

Today I was struck by the beads of water clinging to a banana leaf. Entrancing.

Saving basil seeds

22 Feb

My basil has been loving the heat and humidity over the past few months. I love it in pasta sauces and stuffed in chicken, but most of all I love it in a simple Caprese salad. That’s the perfect taste of summer to me. Yesterday I cut my plant down significantly and made some pesto. Such a simple combination of ingredients, yet packs such a flavour punch! I love the wonderful vivid green hue of fresh pesto in the jar. Much nicer than the dull green of the shop-bought stuff.

Basil flowers - dry and ready for seed saving

My basil has been growing faster than I can use it, and it is bolting to seed. I have pinched out some of the flower heads to extend the season, but I let some of it flower so I could save the seeds to plant again. You can see in this picture that the flowers in the foreground have dried out and gone brown. This is what you want to see before starting to save the seeds. In the background you can see the green flowers just after the white blossom have fallen off – the seeds in those flowers won’t be ripe yet.

Basil seeds for planting next year

All you need to do is pick the brown flowers off the stem, the roll them between your fingers to break the pods open. Each segment should yield between 2 and 4 seeds. After you have a reasonable quantity of seeds saved, leave them to dry out further for a few days before saving them in in an envelope or a small zip lock bag. Best to keep them in the fridge (like all your seeds) because they last longer.

Don’t get cocky halfway through the harvest

21 Feb

I often ponder my favourite foods. I’m a bit of a loony actually, and I often think about it in terms of “which food would I choose if I had to live on one food only for the rest of my life?” Tomatoes would have to be on the short list, along with Gravox pepper sauce. I might have trouble achieving self sufficiency in the latter.

I have been getting some wonderful tomatoes from my three plants. They have been pest-free, delicious and plentiful. I have two cherry truss tomato plants and once mini roma. All F1 hybrids, as seems to be the way with seedlings from Bunnings.

My tomatoes

I have my tomatoes growing in the same place that Ron* has been growing them for years (so much for crop rotation). They are enclosed in a frame with shadecloth on all sides for protection from the sun and predators, but I haven’t been using the shadecloth because I haven’t needed it. You can see that my plants have well and truly outgrown their stakes and are approaching 8 feet tall. I really should pinch out the growing tips, but my climate is frost-free, and I’m greedy.

I have been struggling a bit with a fungal blight, which I have been controlling with an organic fungicide and some tomato dust. Considering the extraordinary humidity this year and the lack of crop rotation, I’m surprised it hasn’t been worse. I plan to plant a green manure crop of bio mustard once the tomatoes have finished, which will clean up the fungal spores in the soil, and hopefully let me plant tomatoes again in this spot in a couple of years.

Possum damage to my tomatoes

Last night I heard possums outside, and didn’t think much of it. This morning though I realised that all my ripe tomatoes were gone, and the ripest of the ones that were left had claw or teeth marks in it. I guess I know now what the shadecloth was for. I should never doubt Ron.

I have now rolled down the shadecloth on either side of the plants, but I have let them grown too high to be enclosed at the top. I’ll see how I go by just enclosing the sides, but I may need to take some drastic action.

* Ron is the man that we bought our house from. He and his wife Margaret were amazing gardeners.

Climbing, Climbing

20 Feb

Gherkins climbing

I love plants that climb. Beans, cucumbers, passionfruit – I love them all. I find it amazing to watch how they send their little tendrils out and grip on for dear life to whatever they can. At the moment my gherkins have exploded into rapid growth, and are climbing the trellice and an amazing rate. My passionfruit too have reached that point where they want to take to the skies, and quickly.

In the picture here you can see the baby cucumbers (gherkins) on the left, radishes below, and behind that are my edamame soybeans and some baby carrots. Behind in the distance is the dwarf banana.

I suspect that soon I am going to start seeing some flowers on the gherkin plants, and and that I better keep extending the trellice, because they will climb fast!

Vegetable leaf miner in my rocket ( I think)

It has also come to my attention lately that I have (what I think is) some vegetable leaf miner winding its way through some of my vegies. I wasn’t too worried about the radishes, but now they are enjoying themselves in my rocket. Not sure what to do about it.

In other news, the kaffir lime is in a whole lot of trouble…

My banana / beans experiment

19 Feb

Beans and snow peas planted around my dwarf banana

I recently planted a dwarf Cavendish banana in the north-east corner of the yard. I planted it in soil broken down from my bokashi bucket, which should be full of nitrogen and organic matter. Since planting it we have had a huge number of really hot and humid February days, and the banana is loving it. It is putting out a new leaf every 3-5 days, and looking very very healthy.

Being the amateur gardener that I am, I slavishly follow things I read in books and on the web. I read that bananas like nitrogen. I also read that legumes capture nitrogen from the air and fix it into the soil. This lead me to think – why don’t I plant beans under my banana? So I did.

I have planted dwarf bush beans at the front and sides of the tree, and a row of climbing snow peas around the back, which I’ll train up some wire that I plan to mount along the back fence. I was worried that the seeds would rot in the ground before they germinated because the banana needs so much water, but the germination rate has been amazing. My experiment so far is a success.

Treating root rot in citrus

19 Feb

Root rot in my kaffir lime tree

Today I uprooted the very sad looking kaffir lime tree and inspected the roots more thoroughly. I definitely have a case of root rot on my hands. You can see that the roots are wet and soggy, and the brown sheath on the roots rub off very easily with my fingers.

I have read that root rot can be treated with a 20% bleach solution, so that’s what I did. I made up a bucket of 20% household bleach, and sat the tree in it for a couple of minutes.

lime roots sitting in a 20% bleach solution

Lime roots sitting in a 20% bleach solution

I then re-potted the lime into the same soil, but in a terracotta pot rather than the grow bag that it has been in. I then flushed the new pot and soil with the bleach solution by pouring the whole bucket over the new potted tree in soil. I now need to leave it until the soil dries out – and must not water until the top 2 inches of the soil is dry. I suspect that it may be too late for my poor little tree, but we’ll see how it goes.

Re-potted kaffir lime

I am keeping a close eye on my other trees, because I have obviously been overwatering them too. I unpotted one of my apple trees today, but the roots of that look OK. More of a concern is the reaction to the foliar feed of iron chelates that I sprayed the other day. I think that is what caused the black blemishes on the young leaves of my mandarin, and my mulberry has blemishes too, and it has dropped a bunch of the immature mulberries. Tragedy. I don’t know what I was thinking by spraying the mulberry with the iron. It was clearly only the citrus that needed it.


**Update** My Kaffir lime eventually died – I think it was just too late by the time I treated it. I’ve been treating root rot lately by using Phosphorous acid (in the form of Yates Anti-rot). It can be used as a preventative treatment too.

It gets worse

18 Feb

I arrived home from work today and my mandarin has developed some black blemishes on the leaves. Some of the newer leaves are even falling off. I wonder if it is succumbing to the same issue as my kaffir lime, or if it didn’t take well to the foliar feed of iron chelates that I sprayed it with the other day. Should I do nothing, treat for root rot, or something else? I have no idea! Why can’t this be easier?

My gut feeling is that I have some issue related to overwatering. There have been some mushrooms growing around the base of my trees, so surely that means they have been too wet. I think I’ll make the call that it’s root rot, and flush the roots with a weak bleach solution. All I can do is kill it, right? 😦